I began working as an Occupational Therapist in 2005 and had my first experience working with people who have acquired disabilities in Adult Rehabilitation. I then worked with pediatrics and children with developmental disabilities. After seeing patients in their homes, on horseback in hippotherapy, and now in my own private practice of Sundance Outdoor Therapy, I realized that therapy itself is not so cut and dry. In the past year, I developed a job training program to help adults with disabilities gain the skills they need to find work in an agricultural setting.
I’ve also become a Host Family Home and co-caregiver to a young man with autism who moved in with my wife and I. He is 24 years old, has a driver’s permit, and recently secured a job through my start-up program and the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). It has become a real concern that he may lose his social security income (SSI) benefits as he starts saving for a car and ultimately a tiny home. As his representative payee, I am not only responsible for the income he receives through SSI, but recording how he spends it and helping him define value. Our goal is for him to be able to live more independently within two years.
The ABLE Act, and subsequent ABLE accounts, can potentially help my roommate achieve his goals of independence. The intention of these accounts is to allow individuals supported by government-funded benefits to save money without the worry of risking the loss of funding for their basic needs if they have more than $2,000 in assets. The ABLE National Resource Center’s website is a valuable resource, offering the history of the ABLE Act, stating reviews of available accounts, up-to-date articles and history, as well as webinars.
Under federal law, each state must enact their own ABLE legislation, yet action is slow-moving in Colorado and other states. This lack of urgency may be due, in part, to a lack of public awareness. In my state of Colorado, the ABLE website claims that “… there are no states that currently have an active ABLE program.” This sends an inaccurate picture to Colorado’s families’ and citizens with disabilities. Currently in 2016, 16 states offer an ABLE program that a citizen with a disability acquired before the age of 24 can open! Compare and contrast their programs here. People with disabilities can apply for ABLE accounts in any state’s program provided that the program is accepting out of state residents.
In learning this and reviewing each of the state options, we determined that Nebraska (website) would work best for our roommate. Here are some things we learned about Nebraska’s ABLE accounts:
- Contributions are not used to determine eligibility for resource-based benefits.
- There are two ways to open an ABLE account in Nebraska: online or mail-in. It is required to use a paper mail-in document if the account holder (person with disabilities) is a 1) minor, or 2) if the account holder has a legally authorized representative (guardian, conservator, or legal power of attorney) with the appropriate documentation to prove such.
- Nebraska requires an investment option. This includes various growth options that are similar to stocks and bonds. They are listed as the: growth option, moderate option and conservative option.
- Although the checking account option is currently unavailable, there is a bank savings account that is similar to a savings account. The difference being that the checking account option will include a debit card that mimics the easy, reliable and convenient use of a debit card from your local bank.
- There is an annual fee of $45. Although there are no fees associated with transfers or withdrawals, there is an annual fee of $45.00, drafted in quarterly payments of $11.25. This is well worth the security of knowing he will not lose his public assistance.
We decided that once my roommate saves $1000.00, he will begin using this bank savings account, which allows him to save money, unhindered. This is how he will start saving for a truck which will give him much more freedom as we will not have to rely on others for transportation. Opening this ABLE account is a simple method to provide a safe place to begin working towards his goals without the fear of suffering a loss of benefits. He will have the opportunity to make decisions based on motivation and desire, instead of fear. This, we believe, will help his confidence grow along with his independent life skills.
Article written by: Jeffrey Galloway
Jeff Galloway is an Occupational Therapist (OT). He graduated from Louisiana State University in 2005. After working at University of Colorado Hospital until 2014, he transitioned into the specialty of hippotherapy or OT on horseback. He has developed a nature-based OT outpatient clinic, vocational rehabilitation program focused on the agricultural industry and leads OT students through their clinicals, introducing them to hippotherapy and the concept of practicing OT in an outdoor setting. He continues to develop innovative nature-based programming in the beautiful state of Colorado. Check him out at Sundance Outdoor Therapy!
We held our Facebook Livestream: “ABLE Accounts: Our Experience” on December 15 (12:00-12:30PM EST). Desiree, Jeffrey, and Daniel shared their experiences with ABLE accounts. You can find it on the Madison House Autism Foundation Facebook page and the provided link at the bottom. Click here to sign up for the Autism Housing Network and to receive important updates about our upcoming events.